In the Trenches: On Being the Subject of Hostile Art Works

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Michelangelo – King Minos in The Last Judgement (1535-1541) , Sistine Chapel, Vatican

There is a long and not always auspicious history of artists using their work to retaliate against critics and other personal enemies. One famous example is the King Minos figure in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement (1535-1541) fresco in the Sistine Chapel, which was very controversial at the time of its creation (and on several occasions after), because of the frontal (male and female) nudity and the orgiastic quality of the composition. (There is a fascinating TEDx talk art historian Elizabeth Lev on the scandal caused by the Last Judgment – I highly recommend viewing it.) King Minos, who is in the bottom of the hell section of the painting, donkey-eared and besieged by demons and serpents, is actually a portrait of Biagio da Cesena, the master of ceremonies at the Vatican, who had questioned the fresco’s suitability for the Sistine Chapel and notoriously exclaimed it would be more suitable for a tavern or a public bath. De Cesena had objected to Michelangelo’s artistic retaliation to Pope Paul III but the Pope refused to intervene, quipping that he had no jurisdiction in hell, and the Last Judgement remained as it had been completed.

There was at least one more such reference to a critic in the fresco – to the satirist, critic (and pornographer) Pietro Aretino, who is depicted as the elderly St Bartholomew. And more oddly, the flayed skin held by St Bartholomew (who was flayed as part of his martyrdom) is believed to feature an anguished (or angry) self-portrait of Michelangelo himself. It is much harder to decipher what Michelangelo is saying in this particular instance, but it may well be that he is depicting himself as the target of an unfair attack. Aretino had written Michelangelo a letter about the Last Judgment in which he expressed similar concerns as de Cesena subsequently expressed and had, after being dismissed by the artist, lambasted Michelangelo for being gay and “godless,” which were potentially dangerous allegations even in Renaissance Italy. Ironically, Aretino was himself known to have had sexual relationships with men.

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Michelangelo – St Bartholomew in The Last Judgement (1535-1541) , Sistine Chapel, Vatican

Such art works make for good anecdotes and some are in fact quite entertaining – having our enemies dragged by demons into the burning pits of hell is something we all fantasize about at times. But while they were meant to “throw shade” at the person depicted, they also shed light on the personality and intentions of the artist, as the creation of such works sometimes reflects oversized and fragile egos, an unwillingness or inability to contend with criticism, petty vindictiveness, and even clear personal malice. Tellingly, very few are good works of art (OK, OK, I’ll make an exception for the Last Judgement).

This post is not focused on the satire to which public figures should expect to be subjected in the modern world, although even there the question arises about where where the line should be drawn between “acceptable satire,” subject to the principles of freedom of speech, and malicious, personally demeaning representations that may  shade into hate speech. Locally, the cartoons of the Jamaican politician and prime minister Portia Simpson-Miller by the Jamaica Observer cartoonist Clovis are a controversial example and I do believe that lines were often crossed there, with depictions of Mrs Simpson-Miller as an ignorant “ghetto” virago that were arguably sexist, classist and even racist.

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One of the many Trump Cartoons that appear on the daily basis

But what to say about Trump? He is such a problematic public figure, and such a threat to important social, cultural and political values, that it is hard to feel sorry for how he is depicted in the many cartoons, memes, comedy routines and late night TV roasts that pop up constantly in the USA and elsewhere in the world (as well as the occasional work of art). Most are funny and, while politically pointed, not personally offensive, as the one above illustrates, although it is obviously hard to resist the lure of his crazy, self-inflicted hairdo. Normally, I get uncomfortable when public figures are depicted in a sexually demeaning fashion, as these may amount to unwarranted personal violations, and there have been a few such of Trump that focused on alleged penis size etcetera. But then again, his openly sexist attitudes towards women, his own appearance, which does not exactly qualify as the “perfect 10” standard to which he holds women, and the allegations of unwanted sexual approaches to various women, make it harder to object when he is so depicted.

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Ines Doujak – Not Dressed for Conquering/Haute Couture 04 Transport (2011)

But to return to art, a well-known instance of an art work that raised questions about the representation of public figures is Not Dressed for Conquering/Haute Couture 04 Transport (2011), a mixed media installation by the radical feminist Austrian artist Ines Doujak.  In this work the former Spanish King Juan Carlos I is sodomized by the late Bolivian labour leader and feminist Domitila Barrios de Chungara, who is in turn sodomized by a dog. It was included in 2015 in an exhibition at Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, which was temporarily closed by the museum director Bartomeu Marí, who also fired two of the exhibition curators — an act of censorship triggered by this particular work that outraged many in the international art world. Marí subsequently resigned and the work has since then been shown elsewhere in Europe and South America.

Most of the discussion was focused on the depiction of the Spanish monarch, but it appears to me that Domitila Barrios, who is in fact the central figure in the work, fared no better, and it is not clear to what end exactly, as there has been very little discussion of the actual content and intent of the work. To me, that is where Not Dressed for Conquering is problematic and a lot of Doujak’s work can in fact be construed as sensationalist and sexually exploitative, of the very women and feminist interests she claims to represent. So perhaps lines were crossed in Not Dressed for Conquering, and arguably not those that attracted the most public attention, but I do not think that censorship was the answer, as pointed critiques and careful analysis of the work would have been far more useful. Doujak has, ironically, been sheltered from any such critiques by being “martyred” as a victim of censorship.Read More »

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Roaming Photographically through my Family History

My mother, Maria Roose, passed away recently, on July 22, 2018. Since my father’s death in 1989, she had lived alone in our hometown of Bruges, Belgium, surrounded by a mix of family heirlooms and newer things, and she lived an active and fiercely independent life, driving until very recently. We are still in shock at how quickly things changed and how sudden her death was, a mere three weeks after having been hospitalized and diagnosed with rapidly escalating health problems. She was 87 years old.

One of the inevitable tasks after the death of one’s parents is having to sort through their personal belongings and to clear out the house. Such work is always emotionally taxing and in our case, it has also been a physically demanding task, not yet completed at the time of writing, for my mother was not one to throw away things. Perhaps it was the experience of having lived through World War II as a teenager, when there were critical shortages of all sorts of goods and supplies we now take for granted but her insistence on keeping still-usable things also led to instructive and at times hilarious finds.

One was my mother’s “shoe collection,” which surely rivaled Imelda Marcos’s, at least when it came to numbers. Another was her substantial hoard of clothes, many of them hardly worn, which provided us with a “history of fashion” object lesson from the 1950s to the present (she had even kept the striped dress she wore when she first met my father at a ball in 1955, which had a lovely petticoat design). My mother was a beautiful woman and she took her appearance seriously. And then there were ample supplies of candles of all sizes, colours and types and of Christmas- and birthday-themed paper table napkins, as well as dozens of board and card games and children’s toys, many old children’s drawings, and an impressive collection of empty (and near-empty) cookie tins—an archaeology of her life as a devoted mother and grandmother.Read More »

Memoirs: Visiting Leonard Daley

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Leonard Daley at his home in Fiddler Hill, St Catherine, with three of his paintings, 1996 (photograph Walter Rammelaere – all rights reserved)

My father-in-law, Walter Rammelaere, passed away recently. He was, among other things, an amateur photographer and when my husband, Marc, rummaged through his photographic files recently, he found photographs of a long-forgotten visit to the self-taught, “Intuitive” Jamaican artist Leonard Daley (1930-2006), who lived in the hills of St Catherine. I have reproduced a few of these here. They were taken in 1996, while my father-in-law was on a one-month visit with us. We took him to the usual tourist sites, but also to those nooks and crannies of the island that tourist visitors only rarely get to see — one of the advantages, I guess, of having a son who is a geologist and environmentalist and a daughter-in-law who is an art historian and curator, both of them actively involved in field research all over the country.

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Leonard Daley – Untitled, c1996 (Collection: Shari Cavin and Randall Morris; photograph: Walter Rammelaere, all rights reserved)

My father-in-law was game to go on those “adventures,” and furthermore had a genuine interest in art, although his own artistic tastes were  quite different from ours: most of the paintings he had at his home in Belgium were rather conventional, nostalgic paintings of our hometown, the city of Bruges, by local artists such as Leo Mechelaere. Surprisingly, he actually bought a painting by Daley, but it was not on view at his home when I was last there in May. No doubt it was too raw and too dissonant with the rest of the art and the furniture in the house, and others who visited or lived in the house may not have liked it or recognized its value.Read More »

Art Museums and Social Hierarchy – Part I

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Bruges

This is the first of a two-part post. The second part, which takes the issues to the Caribbean and Jamaica, can be found here.

Museums are managers of consciousness. They give us an interpretation of history, of how to view the world and locate ourselves in it. They are, if you want to put it in positive terms, great educational institutions. If you want to put it in negative terms, they are propaganda machines.  –  Hans Haacke

I grew up going to museums, and to art museums in particular. I was born in Bruges, Belgium, and it is often said that this city is a museum in itself. Its well-preserved late medieval city centre is an accident of history: Bruges’ harbour silted up rapidly after the 15th century and the subsequent economic decline resulted in a lack of the sort of new building activity that later transformed the face of other Flemish cities such as Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp. Bruges was in its heyday a centre for what we now call Early Flemish painting, with artists such as Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, and Hans Memling in residence and patronized by Bruges’ wealthy merchants. Bruges is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist site, which attracts some 9 million tourists per year, which is remarkable when compared to its population of about 120,000 in the town centre (and a total of 250,000 if the greater metropolitan area is included.)

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Jan van Eyck – The Madonna with Canon van der Paele (1436), Groeninge Museum, Bruges

I am aware of some 26 museums in Bruges and environs, big and small, and public and private, and several of these have significant art holdings. The best-known of these is the Groeninge museum, which is the main municipal art museum and which exhibits the work of Flemish and other artists from what is now Belgium, from the 14th to the 20st century. It features such well-known works of art as van Eyck’s The Madonna with Canon van der Paele (1436) and Portrait of Margareta van Eyck (1439) and The Death of the Virgin (c1472-1480) by Hugo van der Goes, along with modern works by artists such as James Ensor, Rene Magritte, Marcel Broodthaers, Roger Raveel and many others.

When I was growing up, my immediate family was not professionally involved in art or museums (I had a great-grand uncle, Camille Poupeye, who was a fairly well-known theatre and art critic but he was elderly and lived in Brussels and he was not part of our daily experience). Museum visits were however a fairly regular part of our family outings, as appears to have been the norm for most families in our social cohort. Bruges’ municipal museums had (and I believe still have) free admission for local residents on Sundays, which was of course an incentive to visit, and we also visited the local museums with school. We also traveled quite a bit within Europe and museum visits were invariably a major part of that. One of my earliest museum recollections outside of Bruges was a visit to the Louvre in Paris. I must have been about 10 years old at that time (which would place that visit in the tumultuous year of the 1968 student uprising and I remember seeing heavily armed police officers with riot shields and my mother explaining that it had something to do with the students at the Sorbonne).

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Pieter Paul Rubens – Marie de’ Medici Cycle (1622-25), Richelieu Wing, Louvre Museum, Paris

The Egyptian mummies at the Louvre would haunt my dreams for months to come, and not in a good way, and strolling around in that very large museum was in itself a challenge for my young body. I remember vividly how much my shoulders were hurting after walking around for several hours and that I was actually crying, having just had my fill of my first Louvre experience. But my mother would have none of it and she was adamant that we were going to see Rubens’ Marie de’ Medici Cycle (1622-25) before we left because, as she put it, we were Flemish and had to see the work of Flemish artists. I hated Rubens for a long time. Subsequent museum visits were not so traumatic and we saw many of Europe’s major museums during our vacations. Our visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence was particularly memorable to me and I was mesmerized by the Botticellis there – an experience which contributed actively to my decision to study art history and to make a career in museums.

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Sandro Botticelli – The Birth of Venus (1484–1486), Uffizi Gallery, Florence

My family was average middle class, a large family (according to Belgian norms) with five children and no money, and we were not particularly involved in the art world. We had some art works on our walls, but these were family heirlooms, that shared wall space with family photographs and a small, cheap copy of the Mona Lisa – a souvenir of one of our Paris trips. We did not buy art, nor did we go to exhibition previews and I don’t think my family knew any professional artists. The only art event I ever attended while growing up was a special viewing of an exhibition of the Anonieme Vlaamse Primitieven (Anonymous Early Flemish Painters) exhibition at the Groeninge in 1969, to which my family was somehow invited (I don’t remember why exactly but it was some special initiative).Read More »

Letter to Kei Miller

Port Royal

Update May 14, 2018: This letter responded to the essay by Kei Miller as originally published on the PREE website. This essay was removed, in the heat of the controversy it generated and at the author’s request. It was on May 3 replaced by a  substantially revised version.

Dear Kei,

I have been reading the inaugural issue of Pree. It is a good effort and I welcome it, although I would have been even happier if the contributing authors were not almost all part of the social circle of the editors. It is a bit self-perpetuating and, I need to add, self-congratulatory that way. And it is also very uptown, as uptown as Calabash–this does not detract from Pree’s importance (or the importance of Calabash) but it is worth noting, especially in light of the discussions you had on Facebook recently.

Your essay was the first text I read. And I had to re-read it a couple of times, digest it, and read it again. And I am still digesting, hence this open letter. I understand that it is your intent to think through race in the Caribbean and that the current essay is thus part of a broader and indeed very important and necessary project. I’ve read the other three essays you had posted and I was hoping then that there might be a fourth one like that, about you and your own place in those issues. Perhaps that is yet to come.

But yes, race is a big factor in the arts in and from the Caribbean, and one that people have difficulty talking about, so your essay in Pree is a milestone, as it presents a rare such effort. That I welcome, and parts of the essay are indeed breath-taking, because of the writing and because of the sublime insights you offer — “It have to do with the where that we choose, and the where that chooses us.” But there are also a few things that bothered me about this essay and I have questions about why you opted to frame it in the way you did. Perhaps you can answer some of my questions and, if you do, please consider this as an invitation to dialogue.

Most people who read it will know who that the essay alludes to actual persons and incidents, which is very different from your first essays on race, which used fictional but plausible characters. I could identity at least two of the women and the incidents in question are fairly well known. So why not get it over with and name them then? Or, conversely, create fictional, composite characters that allow you to address the same issues without getting personal, as you did in your first essays on race?

And it struck me that some of your account pertained to things that the women in question said to you, or confided to you about, in what appear to have been very private conversations. Conversations they had with you because they trusted you, because they thought of you as their friend. Did they know at any point, then or now, that you were going to write about what they told you, about what happened in your presence? And if so, were they consulted about how they would be represented? If not, I’d have a bit of a problem with that. We all have our vulnerable moments, when we do unusual things and say things to friends that we do not expect them to share with others, let alone having to read about in published form. I’m sure you’ve had such moments too.

You accuse one of the white women writers of not understanding or respecting her character’s voice, of speaking through him despite being at a significant social and cultural remove, of ventriloquism, really. But are you not doing the same thing to the women whose voices and positions you claim to represent in your essay? Are we hearing their voices, really; do they have any agency in your essay? Why did you not empower them more and let them speak to your readers directly, on their terms and in the present moment? Why did you not give them the opportunity to reflect on what had happened, years ago? That would not have prevented you from commenting independently.

And talking about power, why have you exclusively focused on white women? There is no shortage of white male writers in the Caribbean, born ya and elsewhere. Why is it that their legitimacy is less frequently challenged, if at all? Why did you not acknowledge that particular bit of gender bias? And as Brian Heap quipped in his comment on your timeline, why stop at white women? Why not add the “red” ones too? What about their legitimacy and status in the Caribbean literary world? And why not go through the whole register of social and racial privilege, while at it?

I know that “white fragility” is a hot topic, and that may have seduced you a bit, but it  strikes and bothers me that some of the women you are alluding to are presented in a way that suggests that they are unhinged, needy, overly dependent on the ways in which they are judged by others, unable to move productively beyond the relatively minor racial slights they have experienced. Why focus so much on these women’s perceived failings and vulnerabilities? Why focus on their bodies and on their weight, Kei? And yes, I am writing this as a white, overweight, foreign-born woman whose body has also been brought into the equation when her legitimacy in the Caribbean is questioned. Would you have brought any of this into the discussion if they were male? Does the way in which you paint them not conform to the most one-dimensional clichés about women, and specifically about white women?

What bothers me also is that you seem to focus on women who are willing to put up their race and origin for discussion, to make themselves vulnerable to exactly the sort of criticisms they have experienced, instead of doing what is the easiest thing to do for white people here, which is to retreat comfortably into the castle of their privilege and almost guaranteed position in the socio-racial pecking orders of the Caribbean. If they had done the latter, would they have been criticized in the way they were and discussed in this essay? And why discuss these white women as if they live in an insulated white world of their own, in which they expect to be supported, and judged, only by their “own kind”?

And I also need to say something about how you represent the black male writers who “attacked” them, their critics: are they, too, not deprived of their own voice and reduced to caricature? Why, save for one moment of hesitation and second-guessing, do you exempt yourself from their alleged predicament of smallness and “carry-down-ness”, presenting yourself in a more open-minded and benevolent vein, the wise and balanced arbiter of it all, all while writing an essay that goes much further than they ever did in terms of how your subjects are targeted as persons, and has much broader reach?

And finally, as I said earlier on, Kei, I would really like to hear more about you in all of this. Because I sense that these essays are ultimately about you and about understanding your own place and role in these dynamics. I suspect that your readers would get a richer and more revealing discussion about race, and class if you would make yourself more vulnerable in this, in the same way as you have made these women vulnerable.

Best regards,

 

Veerle

Travel Notes While Rome is Burning – Part II

 

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Anti Vietnam War art at the Whitney’s An Incomplete History of Protest

Part I of this blog post can be found here. Below now follows part II.

But let me return to my reflections on my New York City trip. My first full day was spent in the world of Outsider Art, a world which has always both attracted and troubled me—attracted, because it provides exposure and validation for extraordinary art that would otherwise remain invisible and marginalized; troubled, because of the lack of self-reflexivity in the usually well-meaning patronage that surrounds it, which is often overly missionary, purist, and “from the top down,” and thus re-inscribes and even fetishizes the very same marginalization it claims to challenge (and I am using the term Outsider Art as a catch-all for what has been variously called Folk, Self-Taught, Intuitive and Outsider Art or Art Brut—examining the issues arising from these concepts and terms is something for another blog post).

My day started at the Anne Hill Blanchard Uncommon Artists lectures at the American Folk Art Museum, which three presentations on self-taught art from the Caribbean: with Barbara Paca speaking on the Antiguan painter Frank Walter; Nancy Josephson on the Haitian “drapo” or Vodou flag tradition; and Jamaica’s own Jacqueline Bishop on the Jamaican painter Kemel Rankine. The three lectures were supposed to have been followed by a demonstration by Sane Mae Dunkley, an outstanding exponent of the rag-mat tradition in Jamaica, but she had passed away unexpectedly just before New Year. At the request of Jacqueline Bishop (who, I should disclose, is a friend), I presented a short tribute to Sane Mae Dunkley and placed her work in the contexts of popular fibre art and recyclage traditions in the Caribbean.

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Sane Mae Dunkley – Tapestry “Joseph Coat of Many Colours” (c2017), photo: Jacqueline Bishop

It was my first visit since the American Folk Art Museum returned to its earlier Lincoln Square facility, in a building it shares with other organizations. I had the opportunity to look around for a bit before the lectures started and I must say that the rather dreary, institutional look of the present galleries does no justice to that museum’s amazing collections and exhibitions. I sure miss the days when this museum was in its own, purpose-designed building on 53rd Street, adjoining MoMA, which was a pleasure to visit, although this location proved to be financially unsustainable (and the building, which was of architectural interest, has now been demolished to make way for MoMA’s latest expansion—a fable of the art world in its own right, but well).

Frank Walter (1926-2009), whose work was featured at the inaugural Antigua Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, is certainly a very interesting artist, who should be better known in the Caribbean, and Barbara Paca, a NYC based art historian and landscape architect (yes, she combines both professions), must be credited for her relentless work in bringing his work and life to international attention. I would however have liked to see more critical reflection on how which Walter, who was black, positioned himself as a descendant of the plantocracy who privileged his European, German roots over his African ones, and how he is now in turn similarly positioned in the emerging narratives about his life and work. I was also concerned about the manner in which his work is now mobilized to raise awareness about mental illness, since this seems rather reductive and may skew the interpretation of his work as symptomatic of certain pathologies.

Nancy Josephson, an American artist who is herself a Vodou devotee, provided insights into the individual styles and techniques used by various drapo makers, which usefully challenged the notion that there is no innovation or originality in such art forms. Her discussion was however essentially descriptive and, again, lacked the contextualization, criticality and self-reflexivity that would have made the analysis truly useful. Jacqueline Bishop, finally, placed the work of Kemel Rankine, a St-Elizabeth-based sign painter who also produces figurative work, in the context of Jamaican visual culture and folklore.

Read More »

On Making Things

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My father, Karel “Karlo” Poupeye, ON4PU in his radio shack, c1953 (Maria Poupeye-Roose family archive – all rights reserved)

My father was a ham radio amateur. His call sign was ON4PU. He was a technical engineer by training and made almost everything for his hobby himself, from scratch. He made his own radios, his own antennas, for use at our home and for his car, buying components from old army stocks and other, more random sources. It did not always make us popular with the neighbours, the big ass antenna in the garden, the occasional interference with their radios and TVs (although my father volunteered to install whatever it was that was needed to stop the interference in their devices – I believe it involved a diode).

My earliest memories are of playing in his “radio shack,” while my mother was out shopping on Saturday mornings. It was a small room in our attic, chock-full of radio-related stuff. I would play on the ground with boxes with radio components and other fascinating objects, while he was busy on the radio. My first visual memory is of two world maps on the wall of his shack. I must have been about two years old then, since he apparently had two maps while we were briefly living in a particular house when I was that age. In our later home, he only had one map.

I was mesmerized with him endlessly repeating, “CQ, CQ,  ON4PU,” into his microphone, like an incantation, inviting other ham radio amateurs from all over the world to chat with him. The calls involved all sorts of other abbreviations and coded phrases and most were with total strangers – a world in itself, limited to the initiated and the technical. It was quite difficult to get a ham radio license at that time, since there was a stringent technical exam, and he had the greatest contempt for CB radio amateurs, who did not have to meet those technical standards and did not use the prescribed call codes.

Ham radio was my father’s window on the world, much like social media today. My father kept a record of his calls in his log book, and on his world map – I wish I could find both now, and know how far his network really reached. While it was an almost exclusively male world, there was a curious lack of judgement in these conversations, quite unlike social media and, no doubt, other aspects of my father’s own life. He was as excited about talking with a ham radio amateur in Nigeria, as with an American army man in Fort Bragg – strangers who found each other and managed to communicate, although usually only fleetingly, over their shared passion.

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Picnic with the Dacosta Pinto family near Lisboa, c1972 (Maria Poupeye-Roose family archive – all rights reserved)

Even our vacation travel was shaped by this global fraternity, as my father would only travel to countries where he could get a visiting license (Franco’s Spain was out of the question, for that reason). After he finally managed to get permission to drive through Spain with his radios in the car, albeit without being allowed to use them, we had two amazing, month-long vacations in Portugal where we were hosted by fellow radio ham amateurs. I remember an amazing picnic in the countryside near Lisboa, eating spicy foods from East Timor (the daughter-in-law of our host, a Mr Dacosta Pinto, was from there). Our family vacations were surely not ordinary. When I moved to Jamaica, my father tried for to make contact with ham radio amateurs here but never succeeded. I even identified and visited a ham radio amateur in Hope Pastures, but to no avail. They never found each other.

Not that living with my father was easy. He was a brilliant man, fiercely intelligent and perceptive, and technically gifted, but he was no match to his own demons, his self-doubts, his explosive temper, his addiction to alcohol. Everything I wanted to do in my life involved passing a test of wills with him and I was as determined as he was to get my way, which led to many conflicts. My father died of a stroke a few years after I moved to Jamaica, just short of his 58th birthday. I have made my peace with our history, although I wish that he had found greater peace and balance in his own life, and his relationships with others. But I also recognize that I am my father’s daughter and that I learned a lot from him, if only how to channel my own demons more productively. But I also learned how to stand up for myself and for what I believe in, even if it goes against the tide or involves talking back to power.

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Eddie Harris shantie (2017)

And my father also gifted me with a deep admiration for people who can make things, for the inventors and the creatives among us, who can make something of great beauty or utility (or both), whether it is out of practically nothing or with high end materials and technology, using their intellect, their imagination, their talents, and their skilled eyes and hands. It is this admiration, I believe, that shaped my interest in art, as a form of invention, which involves both imagining and making things and communicating through them.

It makes me as interested in the shanties of Eddie Harris, which are made from found and recuperated pieces of wood or bark, or the rag mats of Sane Mae Dunkley, as I am in the visually mesmerizing, interactive video installations of David Gumbs or the incredibly intricate, symbolism-laden paintings of Jan van Eyck – gifted and passionate inventors and magnificent artists each of them. And while ham radio allowed makers of things like my father to communicate  in real time across space and culture, art allows people to communicate across space, culture and time. We became human when we started making things like that and it is what ties us together beyond difference and conflict, and allows us to look beyond, into who we are, where we came from, and how we can shape and re-shape the world we live in.

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Cueva de Manos, Argentina, c11,000-9,000 BC (image source: unesco.org)

[Updated with photos of my father and the picnic with the Dacosta Pintos on August 21, 2018]